Guest Post: Families and Children on Transit

This guest post is by EngineerScotty, a software engineer and part-time transportation geek from the Portland, Oregon areaHe is a frequent commenter here on Human Transit.

Kids_on___bwayI’m a father of several small children, including twin boys (now four years old).  [Not those in the picture — JW]   Using public transit provides parents with several challenges not faced by childless passengers; and conversely, families with children provide transit authorities with challenges–and opportunities–that are unique.  In a recent thread on, one poster, a dedicated urbanist with a bit of a temper, made it clear to myself and other parents that he considered kids–our “screaming brats” as he put it–unwelcome on transit. 

The exchange got me thinking about the particular issues facing parents who use transit–whether by choice or due to economic necessity.  This blog has covered a few family-related subjects, such as the issues faced in New York when schoolchildren take public transit rather than dedicated school buses and the situation is not managed well, but families and children haven’t been dealt with in a systematic fashion here.  In many cities, especially those without a strong transit culture (and the land-use patterns needed to make that a reality), having a larger family can be an obstacle to transit use–and in many places, it’s assumed that having children invariably means a move to the suburbs.  This is unfortunate, for several reasons, so this article examines several ways that a transit agency can help attract and keep families as customers–and why it is worth the effort.

In this post, I’ll frequently refer to
TriMet, our local transit agency–your own agency’s policies may differ.  TriMet is actually a reasonably-friendly transit system in several important ways–but as always, there is room for improvement

Riding the bus or train with children

Taking children along onto transit vehicles can prevent several difficulties, aside from the obvious hassle of herding the kids around in a crowded place.  (Packing small kids in and out of a minivan also has its difficulties, believe me).  The most obvious hassle is that depending on the transit system, traveling with children may require an extra fare be paid (or an extra pass be acquired).  TriMet permits children under 7 to ride free with a paying adult passenger, and children under 18 (along with certain qualifying students 18 and older) travel at a reduced price (and may travel alone).  TriMet has a few other family-friendly fare policies, which I will get into in a moment.

Family on busBeyond the potential added expense, there are numerous other practical difficulties involved with taking children on the bus or on the train.  Older vehicles, especially the high-floor variety, often have difficulty accommodating strollers and such; even when they are accommodated, loading and unloading of strollers may require use of thewheelchair lift.  Double-wide strollers, for those of us with twins, are especially difficult to take on board.  And even if strollers aren’t involved, safe travel with small kids generally requires that the kids sit; whereas grownups traveling alone can cram into a crush-loaded train, that isn’t a sane option if you’ve got a preschooler with you.  Which often means waiting for the next train…

…which brings us to the topic of service frequency.  Waiting for the bus is unpleasant.  Waiting for the bus with a tired toddler is far more so.  While low service frequency is a barrier for anybody, its especially true for parents traveling with kids, for whom reading a book or playing with your iPhone isn’t an option. When you’re dealing with small children, low service frequency has one other drawback–small children have a tendency to throw tantrums, dirty their diapers, need to go to the restroom (now!)–and when this occurs, the proper course of action for the parent is to get off the bus or train, take care of the problem, and catch the next one.  With frequent vehicles and stations with basic amenities, not a big deal.  If the next bus is a half-hour later, and the only restroom is in a 7-11 near a bus stop in a bad neighborhood, it’s a big deal and often a deal-breaker.

Land use issues

Jarrett often points out that land-use outcomes, more than transit planning, dictate transit outcomes–and this has a significant effect on the family-friendliness of transit–and the effect on working families.   A recent report by the Center for Housing Policy found that for every dollar a working family saves on housing, it spends 77 cents on transportation, and a 2003 report from the Surface Transportation Policy Project found that working families spend 19.3 cents of every dollar on transportation.

In some cities, the transit friendly neighborhoods (the nice ones, anyway) tend to cater to a demographic that tends to be childless.  Portland’s Pearl District is an excellent example: it is well-served by transit, has lots of fine dining, shopping, art galleries, clubs, and other trappings of the “yuppie” lifestyle.  It also has zero public schools, is full of tiny apartments, and has few businesses and other amenities which cater to children.  (Portland Public Schools will reportedly open a school there in 2011).  Some residents LIKE it that way, of course–but it’s not a convenient place to raise kids.  Suburbia, on the other hand, is VERY attractive to parents, with low-traffic cul-de-sacs, larger houses (often with yards), etc… but the things that make the suburbs attractive to families are devastating to good transit outcomes.  Unfortunately, even in a relatively progressive city such as Portland, much new housing is suburban sprawl, not urban infill.  It seems to be a pattern in many US cities, residential units large enough to be attractive to families typically are freestanding homes, not apartments, and are located in the suburbs.  Larger dwelling units in the inner city are
often scarce and expensive.  And once you move to the suburbs, that minivan practically becomes essential.

One other relevant fact about having kids–you have a built-in carpool.  In some ways, hauling the kids around in a car is arguably “less bad” for the environment than the driver-only trips that dominate commutes.  On the other hand, in many cases, such trips involve either a) grownups transporting children to destinations (the kids are too young to travel by themselves) or b) grownups bringing children along on errands, in lieu of arranging for childcare–so the additional trips may not be useful in the sense that everyone in the car is being productively moved around. 

The importance of families

Some may dismiss families with children as an unlikely (or undesirable) transit demographic, and propose that transit agencies instead focus on those demographics more likely to be transit-compatible, such as childless families and commuters.  However, there are several problems with doing so.

  • Families who make  the decision to move to the burbs are more likely to abandon transit altogether.  A car will be a necessity–and then a second car will often become attractive.  At that point, even the morning and evening commute for the family breadwinner(s) may beinstead done by automobile.
  • Many trips made by families, especially daytime errands with smaller children, are made during off-peak hours–an important consideration for agencies trying to load-balance (which is pretty much every agency).
  • Children who grow up comfortable with transit are more likely to use it as adults; those who grow up in the suburbs–and whose main exposure to “transit” is an uncomfortable yellow school bus–are more likely to continue an auto-centric lifestyle when they grow up.
  • Families with children are an important political constituency as well.  If they have no stake in good public transit, they are less likely to support it
    with their votes or their tax dollars.
  • Children who are of sufficient age to travel alone, but aren’t old enough to drive a car, are a natural transit constituency. [I began riding the buses across Portland every day when I was about 9 years old. — JW]

What can agencies do?

How can transit agencies (and other governmental agencies) improve things for families (beyond the obvious thing of more frequent and more comprehensive service)? Family-friendly fare structures.  Permit small children to ride

  • free or at reduced price.  Sell family passes, entitling the entire household to travel on transit (together or separately).  Consider lower prices for off-peak travel.  (If congestion pricing is a good idea for motorists, why not for transit users as well?)
  • Make it easy to exit a bus or train (in order to take care of a child who needs a time-out or a restroom) and board a following vehicle, without any additional charge–including for cash fares.  TriMet does well here–a single use ticket is actually a pass to use the system for up to two hours; so exiting and re-boarding on the same fare is not a problem.  (Parents should be sure to obtain a transfer from the driver when boarding a bus; nothing special need be done for MAX light rail or the Streetcar).
  • Better transit marketing towards families–make it clear they are welcome and valued.  Enforce the rules; make sure transit is not an uncomfortable place for parents.  Keep the vehicles clean.  Honolulu’s TheBus system does well here, though the intense density of Hawaii’s
    largest city doesn’t hurt, either.
  • Transit-tracker and similar technologies are very helpful, especially on lines with low frequency.  It’s much more pleasant to wait for a bus with a child if you can DO something with the child besides sitting at a bus stop, and if nothing else, you have an answer to the inevitable repetition of “when is the bus coming, Daddy?”
  • Make sure drivers are aware of child-related issues, and have training to deal with things like lost or separated children.  TriMet recently turned a potential negative incident into a positive one, after a child was left stranded on a MAX train when the door closed between the child and the parent.  Fortunately, other passengers on the train noticed what happened, helped the child off at the next stop, and waited for the parent to catch the following train.  The driver call button–which the parent had pressed–was not responded to; an investigation revealed that the call button was functional and simply ignored by the driver.  To its credit, TriMet fired the driver.  Many transit agencies are unwilling or unable to discipline drivers for acts of misconduct or negligence such as this.
  • Encourage development of dense, family-friendly housing and neighborhoods, and ensure that ample residential developments are located close to transit hubs.
  • Make more agreements with schools to provide transportation, where feasible.  Like in New York, TriMet provides bus service for students attending Portland Public Schools–PPS does not operate yellow busses (at least not for general student transport).  Unlike the New York City case, where transporting schoolchildren was an underfunded mandate, the school district pays the transit agency for the service (and probably saves both agencies a fair bit of money).  And the school district has staggered bell times, so the load on TriMet is spread out a bit more.

What can parents do?

Of course, parents need to be responsible passengers as well.  If your child is ill, keep him or her home (unless the trip is medically necessary).  If the child starts to misbehave on the bus or train, take him off until he calms down (often times, being removed from a bus for bad behavior–or even the threat of doing so–will be sufficient to correct the problem).  Don’t permit children to disturb other passengers.  Basic courtesy goes a long way.  That said, trips on transit can be a positive experience for kids, especially when there’s zoom and whoosh involved. 

Families are an important demographic for transit, and one which is often ignored–or written off as too auto-dependent to bother with.  But they can be valuable customers to have, for many reasons.  Many of the policies which benefit families will also benefit commuters and other riders not traveling with children, improving the value of transit for all.

(Photo 1: lauratitian via Flickr)

67 Responses to Guest Post: Families and Children on Transit

  1. mezzanine March 2, 2010 at 4:10 pm #

    What are those kids in the photo doing to the kid on the curb? The bus is almost empty, yet it seems that they are trying to block the door to him….

  2. belmont March 2, 2010 at 5:36 pm #

    In the referenced child-stranding incident on TriMet, the separation was slightly different than Scotty describes. The child exited the train first, and was separated from the parent who remained on the train. The good samaratin who assisted the child was on the platform.

  3. tomtakt March 2, 2010 at 5:54 pm #

    I would go further and say that transit agencies have a profound responsibility to cater to young people (and therefore to a large extent families), particularly those under the legal driving age. Like many of the elderly and some handicapped people, they have no other form of independent transportation.
    Sadly, ongoing social acceptance of all forms of ageism make it a hard concept for people to grasp that young people should be catered to rather than controlled.

  4. EngineerScotty March 2, 2010 at 5:59 pm #

    Belmost is correct; my memory of the incident was faulty.

  5. EngineerScotty March 2, 2010 at 6:12 pm #

    One issue that is faced by young people, especially in areas without a very strong transit culture, is the idea that it’s uncool. Such attitudes are found among adults as well, but adolescents are generally far more image-conscious than are grown-ups–I can think of many things that I would have been embarrassed to be seen doing, wearing, eating, etc. as a teenager, but which I’m shameless about nowadays as an old fart. 🙂
    On a trip to HK a few years back, some of the double-decker busses had televisions in them. Sitting in the front row, top deck, of a double-decker as it races down the Tuen Mun Road (a particularly hilly, curvy freeway in the New Territories) is an interesting transit experience.

  6. bjc March 2, 2010 at 6:14 pm #

    Good post. One wrinkle I’d highlight- the really bad time for managing kids on transit is when they’re too big too carry and too young to be trusted, say years 1.5 – 5. That isn’t a big window, but the decisions on location and transit made then have a long tail.
    Simple changes I’d make if I ran an agency:
    1) Change the signage so that preferred seating reserved for the disabled was also for parents with small kids.
    2) Make the payment system as simple as possible, because during the time it takes to remove, measure, and pay the fare I’m not watching my kids. A smart card system like Chicago uses would be ideal.

  7. Alon Levy March 2, 2010 at 7:02 pm #

    EngineerScotty: on the other hand, in areas with strong transit culture, coolness goes the other way. Being driven to school means you’re a rich showoff; ordinary middle-class kids take the bus or walk.

  8. Cap'n Transit March 2, 2010 at 7:33 pm #

    This is a very thoughtful piece, Scotty, but please speak for yourself:
    – Suburbs are not attractive for all families – particularly the ones where the parents don’t want to become chauffeurs.
    – Those double-wide strollers are a menace anywhere that there’s actual urban life: transit or sidewalks. The only place I can think of where they’re not incredibly annoying is a mall corridor.

  9. Rhywun March 2, 2010 at 7:59 pm #

    Great article. Though I am a non-parent (and don’t want kids, either) I can assure you that not all of us dedicated urbanites resent children on transit. “Anti-stroller” rules seem particularly heartless to me. Plus, how can one not be forgiving of the often annoying behavior of small kids? They don’t know any better. It’s the bad behavior of teens and adults that’s far more annoying.
    I had an “urban” upbringing myself (in Rochester, NY), and I am heartened to see that parents are still making it work — even by choice! In my early teen years I had easy access to an entire metropolis. My niece and nephew, OTOH, are getting the modern ex-urban experience. Soon they will enter their teens, and I’m not sure how that will work when there is absolutely nothing within walking (or even biking) distance.

  10. A.J.P. March 2, 2010 at 8:23 pm #

    I grew up in a low-density residential area of a small Canadian city, but my father, a city planner himself, would take the 15-minute walk to the nearest bus stop every workday so our family only needed one car. I remember when I was really young, he would sometimes take me to ride the “city bus” downtown with him. I’ve no doubt that those trips, even on rickety GM Classics, instilled in me the zoom and whoosh I still often feel today when taking transit. In high school, I made as frequent use as I could of the transit options in my hometown and today, I’m pursuing a BA with a concentration in urban studies (aiming perhaps for transportation planning in grad school!).
    It was the uncrowded nature of small-city transit and my decent behaviour that probably permitted my first trips, but it’s a given that if children don’t discover how fun it can be to take the bus/train, they may never consider it a viable option later on in life when transit becomes less of an event and more of a routine. Transit agencies should definitely invest in making it easier for families without city planner parents to get moving—after all, these kids are the next generation of potential ridership we’re talking about.

  11. Tessa March 2, 2010 at 9:14 pm #

    Very good post on a very good topic. The carless teens is a good point, too, becuase looking back I realized that’s where I fell in love with transit. I lived in the far suburbs of Vancouver but I could still catch a bus anywhere around town (though that usually meant hanging out at the “cool” malls like Metrotown). It meant freedom for me, and I quickly learned to go anywhere on it. By the time I did learn to drive, I hardly took the car anywhere even when it was an option.
    It really is a smart idea to make transit as kid-friendly as possible.

  12. EngineerScotty March 2, 2010 at 11:05 pm #

    Certainly I’m not suggesting that everyone with kids prefers suburbia–obviously, that’s not true. Many prefer the urban lifestyle; conversely, many people WITHOUT kids still avoid the city like the plague. I’m speaking in generalities here, and much of the article applies to medium-sized cities like Portland. If you live in NYC–or Peoria–my observations probably don’t apply to you.
    And yes, double-wide strollers are a pain in the ass–but they’re pretty much unavoidable if you have twins. While stroller accessibility is not mandated by the ADA, most double-wide strollers are the same width as a standard-size wheelchair (by design)–chances are if you can’t maneuver such a stroller in a given place, the place is likely not ADA-compliant. An interesting tale of a mother of twins who engaged in a bit of (legal) stroller vigilatism at a San Jose shopping mall is here.

  13. Craig Askings March 3, 2010 at 4:00 am #

    One thing that I found that made getting my youngest in and out of buses and trains much easier was to ditch the pram and switch to a backpack child carrier.
    Gave them an adults hight view of the world going past if I left them in the backpack and placed it on the seat beside me. Much less likely to get bored and act up to.

  14. dejv March 3, 2010 at 4:42 am #

    Older vehicles, especially the high-floor variety, often have difficulty accommodating strollers and such; even when they are accommodated, loading and unloading of strollers may require use of the wheelchair lift.

    Interesting. There are no wheelchair lifts for high floor vehicles over here. The mommys use three ways to get on the transit:
    * they stick to guaranteed low-floor services (marked by wheelchair symbol in timetables)
    * they ask nearest fellow passenger to help them with stroller or more frequently, somebody offers help shortly after they start looking around to decide whom should they ask 🙂
    * they use sport strollers that are lighter and less bulky so they can lift it themselves

    Family-friendly fare structures. Permit small children to ride free or at reduced price. Sell family passes, entitling the entire household to travel on transit (together or separately). Consider lower prices for off-peak travel. (If congestion pricing is a good idea for motorists, why not for transit users as well?)

    My city transit agency, DPMB offers this possibility to year-pass holders:

    May be used for transportation of up to 2 persons over 15 and three children under 15 (i.e. up to the day preceding their 15th birthday) during weekends and bank holidays.

    – quite strong incentive for families with one car to use transit for their non-weekdays trips.
    Tri-met also doesn’t seem to make long-term passes attractive: given that vast majority of trips are weekday commutes, it means that one makes:
    * around 20 trips per 14 days, Tri-met’s 14-day pass costs 18.9-times base ticket
    * around 40 trips per month, Tri-met’s monthly pass costs 37.3-times base ticket, DPMB’s monthly pass costs 24.1-times base ticket
    * around 120 trips per quartal, DPMB’s three-month pass costs 58.2-times base ticket
    * around 520 trips per year, Tri-met’s year pass costs 411.3-times base ticket, DPMB’s year pass costs 201.4-times base ticket
    One side note: DPMB’s passes are bound to particular person, making them effectively a bit more expensive than it seems from this side-by-side comparisons. Their unlimited ride nature stil attracts many non-commute trips though as they pose no additional expense for their holders.

  15. Sheryl March 3, 2010 at 6:29 am #

    My children have been riding transit since they were born, first in NY and now in the DC area. We took transit to preschool and made up train songs when we weren’t chanting “The Wheels on the Bus” for the gazillionth time. They are teens now, one in college, and they can’t believe that anyone can live without a good transit system. To them a one-car family is normal. Something good must have happened to me in Brooklyn growing up because I felt it was really important for my children to be independent and not have to drive.

  16. Tom West March 3, 2010 at 6:54 am #

    Looking at transit agencies around Toronto, a great many of them only offer “child” fares to those of elementry school age. 13 year olds very often have to pay fares “student” very close to the adult level. Children of this age generally get all their money from their parents. This means either (1) the child aims to get a ride ina car to avoid paying or (2) the parent offers a ride in a car to vaoid paying. Either way, one should not expect children to pay anythign close to full adult fare.
    On the behaviour front, transit are a public space, and parents should ensure their children behave accordingly.
    I agree that if children grow up with transit, they will use transit as adults – human beings like the familiar. I currently live in a town that has expanded hugely in the last 15 years, with a corresponding increase in transit service levels. Many people I know don’t use transit because it was insufficient or non-existent when they grew up, moved here, or adopted their present travel patterns.

  17. Cap'n Transit March 3, 2010 at 8:14 am #

    Scotty, please don’t try to tell me that something people have been successfully avoiding for over a hundred years is “pretty much unavoidable.” Double-wide strollers are the preferred solution for families who mostly use them in shopping malls and places with wide sidewalks. You may be able to use them on narrower sidewalks and transit vehicles, but they make things really unpleasant for everyone around you.
    Here in New York, most families with two babies use stroller models where one kid is behind each other. Much easier to get past. You could also wear one kid and push the other in the stroller, or if they’re old enough to walk short distances, have them take turns walking.
    Non-babies who can’t walk, obviously, have no choice but to be in wheelchairs and deserve to be accommodated. People who have a choice of ways to transport their babies but choose the one that takes up the most width do not deserve to be accommodated.
    The San Jose mother was not a vigilante, because she relied on the ADA, business practices and mall rules.
    In many cities around the world, families have been transporting their kids on buses and trains for over a hundred years. It’s a good idea for transit agencies to think about ways they can be more accommodating to children, but we should be careful not to give parents an excuse to avoid transit.

  18. TransPlannerTwinMom March 3, 2010 at 8:48 am #

    thanks for the explanation of double-wide stroller. I have twins (15-months) and am a seasoned transportation planning professional.
    My kids do not walk yet, and one petite woman cannot carry two 23-pounds kids, plus their supplies and my briefcase–I am not a pack mule!
    I require a double-side stroller not only to carry the two kids and their food, diapers, etc., but also to get into and out of the small elevator to my children’s school (which is at my work and I am in a 27-story building in a city of 10-million people, so I am quite familiar with urban life).
    Those who must use a small elevator with young twins know that this can be a big challenge. The strollers that have one child sit in back of another do NOT have the manueverability necessary to get in and out of the smaller urban elevators. You can get stuck (yes this has happened to me before I changed stoller types!). I looked like Austin Powers trying to do his get away in the golf cart in the narrow corridor — doing a 200-point turn to try to get out!
    Thanks for your thoughtful article, and for explaining the double-side necessity (for some of us)!

  19. Erik G. March 3, 2010 at 9:34 am #

    Children under 12 months usually cannot walk, yet they are not afforded the same rights and privileges afforded to wheelchair users. That attitude by transit agencies and their employers has to change.
    As for bratty kids; this is due to lack of socialization, which is often caused by overuse of automobiles for transportation. It is very easy to spot on airplanes since most of those “precious snowflakes” would never have been exposed to any other form of public transport before. Take a bus in Europe and you’ll see what I mean.

  20. Eric March 3, 2010 at 9:50 am #

    Very useful and thanks for this post.
    I’m sure our DINK-ville pattern of development in urban centers is hitting the skids…which I think is a welcome opportunity for developers. Hopefully they will explore other patterns, and more kid-geared lifestyle centers. I note that right now, at least where I live, the condominium market has tanked. So you have an enormous glut of tiny apartments in the market, which almost guarantees that developers only have other options to focus on for the time being.
    I’ve always been an advocate of larger, multi-bedroom dwelling units and that is what households will increasingly want. Note that households are becoming more multi-generational and that singles, who are now trying to get rid of their tiny condos, will be looking for rooming options.
    I’m already watching this happen. I see more and more singles cohabitting. I even see DINKs subletting their homes to other DINKs and singles. …I kid you not! (Shall we call them TINKs and QINKs?)
    The need to consolidate households is a pattern I’m watching across the board. And that means larger dwelling units…or more flexible development configurations, such as the courtyard complexes of LA. I think it is critical that the city be able to compete with the suburban homes on this one, or we will be stuck with options that only invite further disinvestment.

  21. EngineerScotty March 3, 2010 at 10:19 am #

    As TransPlannerTwinMom notes, the long strollers are even worse on transit (maneuvering one through the driver door and around the bend on a standard bus is dang near impossible); and there is no legal regime with which they are compatible. (These models are also geared towards families with different-age children, as the two seats in the stroller are usually of different size; whereas double-wides are marketed towards parents of twins). I’ll agree that the long strollers are more sidewalk-friendly–of course, in Portland, the sidewalks are seldom so crowded that the width of twin strollers becomes an issue.
    At any rate, I’m glad that MY twins are now past stroller age. 🙂
    Regarding child-carriers (worn on front or back)–these are effective, but you gotta be careful on the bus or the train (or any other tight space) not to smash the child into a wall, a support pole, a fellow passenger, or any number of other vertical obstructions one can find.
    Speaking more generally–there are many modern conveniences that were not available 100 years ago; and which the norms and customs of society have adapted to. One hundred years ago, extended families were the norm (to the extent that they are making a comeback, hurrah!) and small children were simply left at home with relatives (or neighbors) rather than taken to market. Likewise, the plethora of after-school activities children are involved in is an artifact of an affluent society.
    Attitudes towards child-rearing have changed as well. 100 years ago, leaving small children at home alone was considered socially acceptable. So was the practice of public corporal punishment for children who misbehaved in the public space. Nowadays, either will likely get parents in trouble with child welfare authorities (note; I am not endorsing either practice, or desiring a return to “old-school” discipline). While time-outs are a generally effective disciplinary tool (and one I do endorse), giving a child a time-out while on transit usually means getting off the bus or train–part of the point of a time-out is allowing the child to finish his tantrum in a place where he can be ignored and not disturb others. (This is an issue for public spaces in general, not just transit infrastructure.)

  22. Alurin March 3, 2010 at 10:49 am #

    re: “woosh and zoom”
    My wife and I were babysitting a suburb-raised three-year old boy, who was obsessed with vehicles. We successfully entertained him by taking him on his first bus trip, and then going to watch the commuter train go by!

  23. Omri Schwarz March 3, 2010 at 12:06 pm #

    I’m sure our DINK-ville pattern of development in urban centers is hitting the skids…which I think is a welcome opportunity for developers. Hopefully they will explore other patterns, and more kid-geared lifestyle centers. I note that right now, at least where I live, the condominium market has tanked. So you have an enormous glut of tiny apartments in the market, which almost guarantees that developers only have other options to focus on for the time being.
    Is there really such a short supply? I’ve had no trouble finding 3 bedroom, 4 bedroom apartments and condos around Boston, and the original Park Slope Moms’ children are teenagers now.

  24. Ted King March 3, 2010 at 1:42 pm #

    Nostalgia note :
    SFMuni used to have in the 1960’s a fifty cent ($0.50) ten-ride, punch pass for school kids. The drivers would punch the next intact spot on the edge to mark that spot as used.
    My mother got me in the habit of packing a book or two along on my bus rides. That gave me a choice of things to do – look at people / scenery, snooze, chat, or read.
    One thing parents need to work on is the timing of snacks. Kids can be very sloppy eaters and it’s best to train them that eating and drinking is done OFF VEHICLE and near a trash can. Yes, it’s sensible to pack snacks for your party (how ever many it is – I’m a bachelor and I usually have a couple of granola bars buried in my bag). Have I ever eaten on a transit vehicle ? Yes, a few times and I followed the back-country rule (*) with my wrapper. But too many kids don’t seem to have good habits.
    * What you pack in, you pack out.

  25. gap March 3, 2010 at 6:59 pm #

    One tangential area not really touched on regarding children on transit is the school field trip. I strongly support the use of transit for this purpose, and yet…..a few years back, I had to change my daily bus route because I had been made late one too many times when a school up the line from me rendered my bus overloaded once every month or two. Being that it was a route than only ran every half hour, I was randomly showing up a half hour late every now and then. Luckily, I have a very understanding boss, but on occasions when my stop was passed up for this reason, there was always at least one person fretting about being fired. This, to me, is one area where even the most dedicated urbanist can find themselves frustrated with children on transit and I wish that schools and transit agencies alike worked to better accommodate all users in a logical manner.

  26. EngineerScotty March 3, 2010 at 7:16 pm #

    Depending on the size of the field trip, this might be an area where paratransit–or even a charter (run by the transit agency or otherwise) might be a better option. If you have a sufficiently large crowd, and know the dates in advance, such trips might be more economically served by a dedicated vehicle.
    OTOH, gap’s problem was exacerbated by low service frequency–if the next bus was ten minutes later rather than thirty, there would have been more options available.

  27. Tabitha.Bos March 3, 2010 at 7:20 pm #

    Thanks for the post, Scotty! I’m actually a student writing a thesis related to family transportation (though with a more ecofeminist bent), as well as a Tri-Met rider when I’m not at school, and I feel like you summarized a great many of the challenges and positives that I want to address. I’ve read so many comments that bash children’s presence on transit, especially along the lines of, “be responsible and buy a car already” so I’m sorry that this article had to come out of one of those interactions. Anyway, if you’re ever looking for some semi-scholarly comparison of stroller policies, hit me up.

  28. gap March 3, 2010 at 7:24 pm #

    -agreed. In this particular case, the low frequency was a huge problem because the route was on or near several schools w/ a regional anchor (Seattle Center) that is enormously popular on the other end. One thing I suggested repeatedly to our local transit agency is to coordinate w/ the schools before hand to use service advisories to warn riders to expect high volumes the next day. Hey, it works for snow, construction, parades,and a whole other host of things….

  29. Jarrett at March 3, 2010 at 7:36 pm #

    Some transit agencies do have policies that say they won't transport a group above a certain size without advance notice, precisely to avoid the problem described. 

  30. EngineerScotty March 3, 2010 at 9:54 pm #

    Tri-Met offers group passes for $1 per person (half of a regular adult fare), for groups of 15 or more when booked in advance.

  31. March 4, 2010 at 2:01 pm #

    EngineerScotty, thank you very much for this insightful, thought-out writeup. (You should probably thank Paul Johnson for the inspiration too!)
    First some full disclosure: I’m from Portland but live in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood now with my wife two kids in a 900 sq ft apartment near Cascade Playground.
    I mostly agree with your description of the Pearl District, but there are parks with playgrounds and numerous businesses that serve children (Powell’s obviously has a huge kids section but also Green Frog and even Whole Foods sells kids stuff). There are also some 3bd units in the Pearl but they are typically gigantic (1800 sq ft) which means expensive. There’s actually a great study “Market Assessment for Family-Oriented Condominiums in Portland, Oregon” you can get online: what families want is *small* well-designed units with multiple bedrooms. Personally speaking, I also like to see more semi-private shared community space on each floor, and no parking–due to decent transit and zipcar, we don’t own a car at all.
    It’s also worth pointing out the Pacific Northwest already has fertility rates slightly below population replacement rate… but that doesn’t mean zero children!

  32. Jeff March 4, 2010 at 3:46 pm #

    Trimet’s drivers’ practice of usually handing out longer passes in the middle of the day (I think so they don’t have to throw as many pre-cut passes away) is also really helpful. When traveling off-peak I usually get a 4 hour transfer.

  33. EngineerScotty March 4, 2010 at 4:00 pm #

    A good rule of thumb for transit agencies:
    * When the busses are not full (or even close), the agency should worry about getting butts in the seats; not fares in the hopper.
    * When the bus is FULL, then worry about fare collection.
    Difficult advice to take during times of budget cuts; I know.

  34. Paul March 5, 2010 at 1:09 am #

    Wow 4 hour transfer. In Metro Vancouver they give out 90 minute transfer no matter what time of day it is.
    As for groups like school kids. So long as there is room on the bus they can get on. Otherwise they have to wait for the next bus.
    All of the buses as far as I know are low floor. Also on the newer ones the front seats fold up on both sides. So you can easily fit at least 4 buggies of some sort. Although those seats are also for the elderly and Mothers to be. So it is a first come first service.
    All buses have a bike rake on the front with slots for 2 bikes. If they are full wait for the next bus.
    As for noisy kids. I don’t find a problem with that. I find more of a problem with the odd drunk at night or teenagers who figure it is cool to jump around every where or people who feel we should know every bit of there conversation.

  35. EngineerScotty March 5, 2010 at 8:15 am #

    Another good post on family mobility–Johnathan Maus of BikePortland discusses riding with the kids, here.

  36. Ted King March 5, 2010 at 9:29 am #

    @Jeff, @Paul
    Re : “4 hour transfer”
    SFMuni has a ninety-minute policy (std., two hour maximum) up until 8:30PM (2030). Then it switches to “Late Night” mode which is valid until the end of owl service (5AM / 0500).
    A couple of years ago, in the late afternoon, I got a transfer when paying cash that went six hours (360 mins.). More typical were transfers that ran two to three hours (I had a string of cash fares a while back – I prefer a Fast Pass because it’s less hassle). I wonder how much impact a loose transfer policy has on the farebox.

  37. Paul Johnson March 5, 2010 at 2:41 pm #

    How self-important do you have to be to deliberately disobey TriMet rules regarding folding stroller when boarding transit vehicles? Get the baby backpack or teach your kids to sit down and shut up on their own.

  38. Paul Johnson March 5, 2010 at 2:45 pm #

    One other relevant fact about having kids–you have a built-in carpool.
    Oregon’s one of the few places that still considers children “people” for purposes of a carpool. Vancouver, BC does not, for example. One person in a van full of kids? Single occupancy lane for you!
    What can agencies do?
    Require families with young kids to call ahead and pay the higher LIFT fare for door-to-door service, and leave the rest of us trying to get somewhere in peace alone.

  39. Jarrett at March 5, 2010 at 3:34 pm #

    Paul.  As someone without kids, I'd note that civil disobedience (conscious or not) has a well-established role in setting transport realities and ultimately changing rules or at least suspending their enforcement.  For example, we all do it when we use our wits, rather than available signals, to cross a street as a pedestrian. 

  40. EngineerScotty March 5, 2010 at 3:46 pm #

    Ah, my muse has arrived. 🙂
    TriMet’s rules regarding folding strollers are:
    * On non-low-floor vehicles, they must be folded; unfoldable strollers are not permitted.
    * On low-floor vehicles, all strollers are welcome in the wheelchair area; though folding them is recommended. Depending on the age of the child, it may or may not be safer to keep them in the stroller or in the lap; being able to board first and then stow the stroller (vs trying to juggle child, stroller, and gear while still on the platform) is helpful.
    Regarding carpool lanes, “children counts” is the law throughout the US (, not just Oregon. This is also true in the Canadian province of Ontario (–I couldn’t find an authoritative source for BC. BWT, fetuses don’t count (see, which documents numerous other ways people try to beat HOV lanes),
    The suggestion that families use paratransit service is unhelpful. Transit is a public accomodation, not an entertainment venue–the notion that the child-free have some sort of “right” to be not bothered by children is just as morally repugnant as the notion that the able-bodied have a right to be free of the inconvenience caused by disabled passengers, etc.

  41. Paul Johnson March 5, 2010 at 5:31 pm #

    If you want to act morally repugnant yourself and feel that children require special accommodation in public, then use the special accommodations already available. Paratransit doesn’t discriminate just because you’re able bodied. I’m willing to accommodate the disabled, they didn’t have a choice. You had the choice to have a child. That’s not my problem, it’s not anybody else’s problem. It’s your problem. Deal with it, and quit bothering the rest of us. You’re not special, you inflicted the problem on yourself.

  42. EngineerScotty March 5, 2010 at 8:49 pm #

    Jarrett’s latest article is a better response to Paul, and others with his POV, than anything I could probably write. I’ll simply note that if everyone got to exclude from transit everyone else they objected to–there’d be nobody left on the bus but the driver.

  43. spyone March 5, 2010 at 9:13 pm #

    I’d like to point out that people do have a right to not be bothered by children, or adults even, when out in public. It is limited, but it is there.
    What I’m trying to say is that statements like “the notion that the child-free have some sort of “right” to not be bothered by children is … morally repugnant” lends itself to the interpretation that people are have to put up with children in public no matter what, and I don’t think you’d actually agree with that.
    If a passenger is being offensive, he gets put off the bus. An adult passenger who swears gets kicked off the bus, and I think we all agree that being in a wheelchair is no protection from that.
    Part of being a parent is teaching your child how to behave in public, and it is sad to say that from the behavior of most of the adults I see parents have been doing a lousy job of it in recent decades. Very small children are actually unable to control their behavior, and they get some slack for that, but if the child is throwing a screaming fit or otherwise annoying all in his environment, it is the parent’s responsibility to remove the child so as not to i offend the others.
    Not all small children are screamers, or brats, but some of them are, at least sometimes. I think we actually all agree that “screaming brats …(are) unwelcome on transit,” we just disagree that all children fit that description.
    For the record, I am a parent (in that provided a home for my brother when he became a single parent, and I helped raise his kids). It is really annoying to have to leave a store without the things I went there to purchase just because the child I was with decided to throw a tantrum, but I accepted that responsibility when I went out in public with a child, and I certainly have no right to inflict that unpleasant experience (being around a kid throwing a tantrum) on others just because they dared to leave their homes.

  44. Paul Johnson March 5, 2010 at 11:21 pm #

    spyone gets it! I don’t know why Scotty’s got the parental entitlement complex, though…

  45. EngineerScotty March 6, 2010 at 12:24 am #

    I don’t have the “entitlement complex”; at least I don’t think I do. I mostly agree with spyone–in particular, if your kid is unable to control his/her behavior, and starts disturbing passengers–then by all means, remove him. Or her.
    Basic parenting etiquette.
    The original post above, essentially says so. Go re-read it. Look near the bottom, where it says “what can parents do”? I can’t think of anytime I’ve suggested otherwise. The only thing I can think of that’s even close is denying a “right not to be bothered”; by which I mean that others don’t have the right to exclude kids or families; not that other passengers need to endure tantrums in silence–but I can see how it might have been misinterpreted.
    My objection is to those who seem to think that children shouldn’t be welcome on transit at all, for whatever reason. My objection is to the notion that strollers and other accessories unique to parents ought to be unwelcome–why? My objection is to the notion (such as you proposed on that stroller-friendly policies are a BAD thing–why? It seemed from the conversation over there that you weren’t objecting on safety or capacity grounds–it seems that you wanted to make the ride more difficult for parents, in the hopes we won’t bother getting on board in the first place–regardless of whether or not our particular brats are prone to screaming. It seems you want the kids to go away, period.
    Wheelchairs, other mobility appliances, bicycles, unicycles, shopping carts (the small personal kind, not the mammoth beasties you push around Costco), golf bags, large musicial instruments (guitars, cellos, or even bigger than that), luggage, pet-carriers, and numerous other large effects, are frequently taken onto transit vehicles.
    These things all take up room, obviously–and as long as it doesn’t get out of hand, this is a good thing, not a bad thing, as it improves the utility of the service for many people. If a person can’t use transit for a given trip because they can’t take their kids, or their cart, or their walker on the bus–that’s more incentive to drive instead.
    The suggestions that I made are ones I think are reasonable–I don’t expect, obviously, that every agency implement every one. Many of them, such as better accommodation of strollers, make life easier on other passengers, as it can reduce dwell times (less waiting for Mom to remove the kids and fold up the stroller), and reduce potential bad behavior (no waking up the sleeping child). And of course, more frequent runs benefit everyone. I’m not suggesting at all that other passengers must endure tantrums, or that busses ought to be equipped with changing tables, or decorated in a Barney theme. I’m simply suggesting that responsible parents be treated like welcome passengers.

  46. Andy in Germany March 6, 2010 at 1:04 am #

    This whole discussion is somewhat odd to us, and I suspect would be to a lot of Europeans where children on busses are a very normal part of life. Our local busses have space specifically for strollers and it’s used heavily, they also ‘kneel’ at the kerb so you can get on easily. Trams/metro are also built to cater for parents with children. I’ve never noticed this being a problem.
    We don’t have the yellow shcool bus system here, so Children are frequently seen on scheduled regular bus and train services to school en mass, filling them. 99% are polite and respect other users. The rest get told very quickly. Again, it’s not a problem to anyone.
    From my own experience and the reactions of commentators, I think the different reactions may reflect a cultural reaction to children, rather than a reaction to children on public transport.

  47. Alon Levy March 6, 2010 at 3:07 am #

    In which city does an adult who swears on a bus get kicked off – Salt Lake City? Because in New York, adults swear all the time everywhere and it’s considered acceptable.

  48. EngineerScotty March 6, 2010 at 10:44 am #

    On a somewhat related subject, here’s a story out of Arizona about a transit agency that Does Not Get It.
    Essentially, the agency is demanding that its drivers strictly enforce fare policies–you don’t have full fare, you don’t ride. Many agencies permit drivers some discretion–to permit a regular rider who forgets his pass on, or to let someone ride who doesn’t have quite enough change, or to “waive” fares if the bus is crushloaded, or to let someone without money ride if the weather is nasty.
    Not in Phoenix, apparently. Drivers there are required to collect full fare (or see proof of payment), and to expel any passengers who cannot pay, regardless of circumstances; and can be terminated if they fail to comply with this policy. Many drivers there are worried about being assaulted in these circumstances. The agency states that this is simply enforcement of existing policy, the drivers state this is a de facto new policy.
    Running transit is like running a restaurant, guys–customer satisfaction is important. Just like it’s better to give an unhappy customer a free meal than to have him leave swearing never to come back–it’s better to give a rider an occasional break than it is to have him or her hate the service. Even if the population is largely dependent on transit (I suspect this is the case in Phoenix, a sprawlopolis with a largely right-wing political consensus), it’s not good to have an agency that customers can’t wait to abandon.

  49. EngineerScotty March 6, 2010 at 10:46 am #

    BTW, a hat tip to Portland activist Jason Barbour for the Phoenix story.

  50. Paul March 6, 2010 at 1:17 pm #

    They tried a somewhat similar heavy handed tactic years ago in Vancouver. Bus drivers got beat up.
    So now if the driver doesn’t want to get into a confrontation they just let the person on. It is basically up to the driver. Also the buses now have CCTV Cameras and microphones. To help work against driver abuse and other things.

  51. Paul Johnson March 6, 2010 at 8:46 pm #

    Strollers are easily foldable and take up valuable space away from areas designated for other users, such as bicycles and handicapped users. And the double-wide and SUV-style jogging strollers are also a tripping and shinning hazard to other users, that other objects commonly found on transit don’t present. It’s kind of like using an umbrella in a crowded space: Sure, it might be allowed, but that doesn’t mean you should create an eye-level poking hazard in a crowded space. And like I said on Portland Transport (in a post that got deleted): I don’t have a problem with kids on transit. I have a problem with unfolded strollers and obnoxious kids on transit. If you think open strollers on transit or noisy kids and/or kids that run up and down the aisle are OK, then yes, you do have the Parental Entitlement Complex.

  52. Ted King March 6, 2010 at 10:41 pm #

    @Alon Levy – Re : Swearing
    SFMuni has a tolerance for swearing. But the drivers will call the cops for ranters and noisy drunks. San Francisco has a substantial Black community and their choice of words can be very coarse. I’ve been on an SFMuni bus where the driver told a ranter to get off the bus. On another trip the driver remained at the curb until the troublemaker got off. Yes, the passengers delivered the message to the ranter.
    There is a problem with being too strict about what one hears. Some words, such as the name of a Dutch aircraft company (Fokker), can be mis-heard as a swear word. Also, in melting-pot cities, you may have bi-lingual homophones. That’s where the foreign language has words that sound like some of the local cuss words.
    N.B. I don’t have an example of such a homophone, just something similar. A former neighbor of mine was a passenger relations / translator staffer at SFO. He got called in to calm down a German traveler who had been asked by U.S.Customs “Do you have any gifts ?”. The problem is that “gift” is German for “poison”.

  53. Alon Levy March 7, 2010 at 1:26 am #

    Strollers are easily foldable and take up valuable space away from areas designated for other users, such as bicycles and handicapped users.

    In what way is having kids a choice that riding a bicycle isn’t?

    SFMuni has a tolerance for swearing. But the drivers will call the cops for ranters and noisy drunks. San Francisco has a substantial Black community and their choice of words can be very coarse.

    I don’t know SF, but in New York, white people swear every bit as much as black people. The only bad word black people use more than white people is “nigga.” And no, the bus drivers don’t care – sometimes they swear themselves. (The stereotype that New Yorkers swear all the time is false. However, they’re more tolerant of swearing.)

    Also, in melting-pot cities, you may have bi-lingual homophones. That’s where the foreign language has words that sound like some of the local cuss words.

    The main example I can think of is from Mandarin. The Mandarin word for “that” or “which” is něige, pronounced nearly identically to the aforementioned racial epithet.

  54. Paul Johnson March 7, 2010 at 2:22 pm #

    In what way is having kids a choice that riding a bicycle isn’t?
    Increased population negatively impacts congestion regardless what mode they take simply by being excess population; something we don’t need in a world close to resource-lock. It is not everyone’s right to procreate to the brink of starvation.

  55. Alon Levy March 7, 2010 at 5:45 pm #

    The world has food surpluses. Global resource problems aren’t about overpopulation, but about high consumption levels per capita. Starvation is always about distribution, not overall shortage, and countries that maintain democratic governance always avoid it no matter how poor or overpopulated they are. India’s never had a famine since independence.
    Granted, “Americans need to reduce their consumption by a factor of 5” is not as exciting or contrarian an idea as “other people are having too many kids,” but it has the benefit of being true.

  56. Matthew March 8, 2010 at 8:21 am #

    Paul Johnson, your last comment is utterly ridiculous. At some point (specifically the opening words “Increased population…”), you went from a discussion on children on public transportation to a rant on larger societal issues of population control.

  57. joshuadf March 8, 2010 at 9:03 am #

    Paul Johnson, you seem to be confusing population growth with population replacement. The Pacific Northwest, like most developed counties, actually has negative natural population growth (below replacement rate). However, that does not mean zero children. There are millions of children in famously shrinking “childless” countries like Japan. It’s pretty much an evolutionary certainty that a certain percentage of any given society will have children.
    (Of course, US metropolitan areas are growing fairly rapidly, due to net migration from smaller towns, rural areas, and other countries.)

  58. Paul Johnson March 11, 2010 at 9:05 pm #

    joshuadf, matthew, that doesn’t negate the underlying truth of what I’m saying. The world, and cities in particular, don’t need more people at this point. Therefore, it’s not to our advantage to make life easier for parents. If anything, we should be making it harder, like getting rid of the tax break for dependents and taking BC’s lead by requiring strollers to be folded on transit and not counting them towards carpools.

  59. Alon Levy March 12, 2010 at 1:09 am #

    I still don’t understand what good reason there is to force people not to have children but not to force them to consume less. A family of four living car-free in the inner city eating red meat sparingly and using few heavy industrial products will cause less stress on the environment than a single suburbanite eating steak every day in his coal-powered McMansion and driving 50 miles a day.

  60. Paul March 12, 2010 at 3:26 am #

    @Paul Johnson.
    I think a bigger reason why people are asked to fold up their strollers when empty. Has a lot to do with making the most efficient room of the bus. And has nothing to do with making it harder for parents. It is the same thing as asking people with backpacks to take them off and put them between their legs. You get more people on the bus when you do so. I should know because I get pissed off at people who keep their backpack on thus blocking the path to the back. I’ve actually elbowed people in the back as I walked back.
    I’d also say the city of Vancouver has been doing what it can to promote families to actually live in the city. One prime example is the elementary school that was built as part of the Concord condo development in Yaletown.

  61. Paul Johnson March 16, 2010 at 7:10 pm #

    True that, regarding strollers and folding them. I would posit that having children in and of itself is an inefficient use of time and space, and restricting family access (at minimum) during peak hours would be a greater benefit.

  62. pets carriers May 5, 2010 at 12:59 pm #

    Riverside Transit Agency written test?
    Has anybody taken or seen the pre-employment written test? What does it consist of? I applied and they called me to take one and I’m kind of worried, I hope it’s not a real hard test.

  63. jsonchiu September 4, 2010 at 5:15 pm #

    The world, and cities in particular, don’t need more people at this point.
    People are dying everyday, we need MORE people (i.e. having kids) to just sustain the population level and keep a healthy population profile (balanced amount of people in different ages). Are you seriously suggesting that cities should shrink and be filled with retiring old people?

  64. spookie September 23, 2010 at 1:32 pm #

    In my experience, parents almost never remove their children from anywhere they are misbehaving. I am often told by parents that I need to simply tolerate any misbehavior of their children, because they’re just kids. I am tired of hearing it and hope all parents keep their children off public transit and pretty much any other PUBLIC place.

  65. vamsi nath June 29, 2011 at 2:37 am #

    It’s great!! Now a day’s most of the people are using transit to avoid pollution. As they are in the point of reducing pollution, parents are not even taking certain care for their children in transit. Due to this comfortness is lacking not only between parents but also between their children.
    Any ways, dear parents please don’t care of your comfort only but also take care of your children health and comfort. Thanks for sharing a good article

  66. Edward Re October 19, 2011 at 4:59 am #

    One thing I’d like to add regards pricing policy. In order to encourage people to take PT, you need to compete with the price of a car trip.
    For example, in my home of Sydney, a rail trip from St Leonards to Chatswood costs $8.80 off peak, ($12,80 peak), for 2 adults, plus $2.20 or $3.20 for one kid, and one travels free. The distance is 8km there and back. We’d use about 1 litre of fuel in the car, about $1.50. Given the car is sitting in the garage, and costs money whether it is used or not, the incentive is to use it.
    My kids positively love taking the bus and train. But we usually only take public transport on Sunday when pricing is a reasonable $5 for 2 adults. Sadly, the trips are mostly just for fun, not for necessary trips.
    Most people here have at least one car sitting around. As Jarrett knows, in Sydney public transport is not very convenient. When you must pay for 4 tickets, the decision to use it is hard.

  67. marlon April 17, 2012 at 6:11 pm #

    Like many of the elderly and some handicapped people, they have no other form of independent transportation.